It's stating the obvious to say that the composition of Klal is changing and changing in major ways. What I'm specifically referring to is the ratio of older people to younger people present in Klal.
Obviously the horrendous events of WWII decimated a great part of the generation before mine. Those of that generation who survived procreated sufficiently to produce a generation much larger than that war time generation--what is generally known as the Boomer Generation. That was a good thing--the numbers for Klal were being re-generated. But it is not only the number of people in each of these two generations which are important to look at: it's the longevity. The war-time generation underwent horrific deprivations, deprivations that would affect them many decades after the war. Many from that surviving war-time generation died fairly young given today's longevity tables. Many of them suffered a wide variety of illnesses and medical conditions that could be linked specifically to the tremendous physical and emotional stress they were under during the war. Their systems had been weakened and never fully recovered.
For that Holocaust Generation the celebration of a 50th wedding anniversary was truly a momentous occasion; for that matter, celebrating a 40th anniversary was also a momentous occasion. For many of that generation a spouse or both the husband and wife died before such milestones could be reached. [Note: my mother tells me that it was not just the Holocaust Generation that did not see this longevity of marriage. In going back over her grandparents' and great grandparents' history, none of them managed as a couple to come close to 40 years, never mind 50 years.] Look around at those from that generation who are still alive today and the number of couples who have survived together is miniscule.
Now come to the Boomer generation. That generation's ages span from the 50s through the 70s. We have friends and family across that age spectrum. And the vast majority are, B"H, still alive and are part of a couple. Hitting a 40th anniversary for this generation is not unusual at all; neither is hitting a 50th anniversary. We have a couple of friends who have already achieved that milestone and many more who are within a few years of it.
So why mention what is surely a wonderful thing to have happening? Apparently it needs to be pointed out that the Boomers are no longer youngsters and most are sitting on the cusp of leaving middle age or have already left it. Yes, this generation is aging. And because of the size of this generation and because of the longevity of the members of this generation, some serious planning and consideration needs to be taken care of if that generation is to continue to thrive as it enters the golden years.
There needs to be some thought given to what kinds of activities and programs will have to be in place for this generation as it grows older. And yes, there needs to be some thought as to what type of living accommodations might become necessary, for those who are still capable of being independent and those who might need some type of help. I've heard a number of times that the "obvious" solution is that parents will move in with their children when the time comes that they might need some help or not be fully independent any more. Oh boy, not! That might be an answer for a very few of the Boomers but not for the majority. Look at you and your spouse if you are the children of Boomers. Are you both working? Do you both plan on working until "official" retirement age? The answer is most likely yes. So then, just who is it that will be at home caring for those parents that are going to move in with you? Your kids? The ones who are married, working and have kids of their own? And let me ask you this--do you have parents in their late 50s, early 60s? So, do they have the exact same energy they had when they were younger? Probably not. So just when these children of the Boomer's are themselves slowing down a bit we want to hand them 2-4 aging parents to be fully responsible for on a 24/7 basis? [Note: there is a reason why in Yiddish there is a saying "Och und vei ahz elteren darfen unkimmen tzu kinder."]
Even in this geographic area chock full of every type of medical specialist there are relatively few whose specialty is geriatrics. What we have in place for the seniors we presently have is insufficient, never mind that it certainly won't cover what the Boomers might need. Senior care programs are woefully inadequate, with some areas of the city having none or just one. Assisted living facilities are also inadequate and have long waiting lists. Nursing homes also have long waiting lists, and there aren't enough of them.
Now add in that there are some in the Boomer generation who have been shelling out megabucks to help support their children and grandchildren, particularly as regards the payment of yeshiva tuition, not to mention donations and support of every other type of organization. Every penny that these Boomers are spending on succeeding generations is a penny that they won't have in savings to cover their non-working, older years. There's this as well: things get more expensive as time goes on, not less. Economic turndowns are cyclical and occur about every 10-15 years. What might seem like adequate savings now might well not cover what needs to be covered way later on. Even those who have diligently saved towards their eventual retirement may well find themselves with money problems in their later years. At that point they are going to need community financial help, and just where is that going to come from? Yes, some children might be able to help out their parents--and some won't be able to.
In short, what I'm advocating is that Klal needs to broaden its outlook of what services it must have in place for its members, and it needs to consider ALL of its members, both now and in the very near future. Any solution for yeshiva education that counts on all/most/the majority of the money in Klal going toward it is not a sustainable nor workable solution. Solutions to Klal's problems that count on continued large infusions of money from the Boomers is doomed to failure, sooner than later. Whatever complaints there may be about the Boomers--and yes, there are many--they give and gave while the money is and was available. Now the question is, what is Klal going to do for these Boomers when they become our elder statesmen, when they are the oldest generation, when they need Klal's help? Are we going to help them have truly Golden Years, or is that gold going to be heavily tarnished?